Publicity materials for Terminus Americana provide the following synopsis for Matt Pelfrey’s play: “After barely surviving an office rampage, Mac Winchell is thrust into a nightmare landscape populated by lost Marlboro Men, psychotic vagabonds, sinister corporate thugs and a strange cult known as a ‘The Church of Christ, Office Shooter’. Mac attempts to escape this twisted reality by undertaking a quest that ultimately leads him into the darkest corners of the American Dream. Terminus Americana is a surreal, visceral and challenging examination of our violence-saturated culture.”
If this describes a play that you think would be up your alley, by all means take a chance on TheSpyAnt’s production, now playing at the Elephant Theatre. TheSpyAnts have a great track record; in fact, I have loved everything I’ve seen by them: Kidnapped By Craigslist, The Reunion, Infinite Black Suitcase, Rudolph The Red-Hosed Reindeer, and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. It’s because I admire TheSpyAnts’ work that I chose to ignore the warning flags raised in me by the above summary. “Nightmare landscape … darkest corners … surreal, visceral … violence-saturated” do not describe the kind of plays that I generally enjoy, and Terminus Americana did not prove to be an exception.
Make no mistake—the acting in Terminus Americana is outstanding, particularly Bret Hren’s powerful performance in the physically and emotionally demanding role of Mac. Director Danny Parker-Lopes understands Pelfrey’s script (certainly far more than I could) and his cast do intense, committed work, bringing Pelfrey’s nightmare landscape to vivid life, with occasional bursts of humor. CB Spencer is particularly fine in a trio of roles, but then this is an actress who is never anything less than outstanding. Eric Bunton, John Justin Dabuet, Adam Dornbusch, Charles Meyer, David Page, Marina Mouhibian, and Maria Tomas complete the cast reviewed here, and there is much to praise in their work. (Bunton, Meyer, and Tomas’s roles are played by Hal Perry, Matt J. Popham, and Alison Zatta at some performances.)
Though Mouhibian’s acting seems hampered by English not being her first language, she scores high marks for her fanciful costume designs. Mouhibian and Matt Maenpaa have designed an appropriately grungy set and Maenpaa’s lighting is fittingly nightmarish. The sound design by the media gods (that’s how the sound designers are billed, without capital letters) features some great, moody music among numerous gunshots. Makeup and special effects by Michelle Diaz are suitably gruesome.
If a “surreal, visceral and challenging examination of our violence-saturated culture” sounds like something up your alley, you may well love Terminus Americana. A 2001 production by L.A.’s Lodestone Theatre received rave reviews from the L.A. Times, Backstage, and the L.A. Weekly, and it’s entirely possible that TheSpyAnts’ could as well. Ultimately, though, Pelfrey’s play ended up not being my cup of tea.
TheSpyAnts at The Elephant Lab Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood.
July 25, 2009